Drills and Tips for a Successful Zone Defense – Flag Football Tips from the Ninja

18 09 2010

What drills can I run to help my defense with ZONE. I’m having a hard time showing and teaching them. This is my 1st time coaching defense.  Thanks in advance,
Coach Paul

“No feather can fly.  But a wing full of feathers soars.” -Further Musings of the Master

Coach Paul,

The first thing to realize is that there are two components to a successful zone defense: Scheme and Execution.  Drills and practice need to revolve around those two themes.

Scheme. The wrong zone defense will get beaten no matter how hard you practice or what drills you work on. Having a good scheme is vital.  Some league formats (like 4on4) make running a zone defense very difficult. But with enough players it’s just a matter of the plan and carrying it out.  If you have purchased a playbook from my dojo, you will have received the defensive handbook with plays and tips to success on defense.  Also see the recent post on a great 7on7 flag football defensive look.  The important piece of running a successful zone, is to be able to tailor it to the offense you’re playing.  Have a couple of different sets ready for different offensive looks.  An aspiring Michael Vick quarterback requires more linebacker support and maybe even a dedicated defender to spy the QB, whereas an immobile gunslinger with strong receivers demands more attention in the secondary.

How to Run a Zone Defense Right

Know your zone responsibilities, and stick to them.

I like a base cover 2 defense with two deep safeties, two cornerbacks a linebacker and two rushers with blitzes and rotations out of that format.  As some earlier posts mention, man-on-man defense is a good alternative if you have the athletes. Also experiment with a hybrid.

Execution. The second, and probably more important, aspect of a good zone defense is execution.  Brush up on some of the fundamentals from the Ultimate Strategy Guide that comes in our playbook packages like the backpedal, keeping your head on a swivel and maintaining proper field vision.   Work on breaking on a ball, swarming the receiver and reading the QB’s eyes.  But those pieces are peripheral to the core zone defense key: staying in the zone.  By far the biggest problem with zone defense comes from guys who are not used to playing disciplined, organized football abandoning their zone coverage responsibilities.  One or two flashes of sandlot glory and suddenly a cornerback who is supposed to cover the flat is flying across the field with a receiver, hoping for a pick.  DEFENSE HAS TO STAY IN THE ZONE.  Work on fundamentals, work on vision, definitely work on swarming the football, but if you want to practice for a zone, practice staying in your spot.  Have a skeleton defense line up in the zone coverage.  Consider arranging a point scheme for receptions and touchdowns (to get the defense trying to win), and then start sending receivers through the zones.  Double up receivers in a zone.  Try to run routes that will pull the defenders out of position. If a defender blows coverage, pull him out, replace him and have him stand and watch the defense from the offensive side of the ball (not running a route, just watching). This will give perspective on what it looks like as a QB when zone coverage fails.  Also, emphasize communication.  When a receiver cuts across the field, he likely goes in and out of 2 or 3 zones.  If the defenders are communicating what’s happening, this fosters the cohesive defensive front, and will improve your team.

The key is to think about the zone from an offensive perspective.  Any good offense that’s targeting the zone will do what they can to exploit the zone.  Pull a defender out of his spot and hit another receiver in the hole.  A good quarterback knows which routes split a zone defender and where to look for an opening.

You don’t need a long list of specific drills to improve your zone coverage. You need a good foundation and scheme, and then you need to work on execution.  Yes, fundamentals play a big part, but the zone defense is only as good as the players executing it.  Each defender has to trust and rely on the guy next to him to pick up the receiver that crosses from one zone to another.

Flag Football Answers for Flag Football Questions

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How to Improve Your Offense with a Solid Defense – Flag Football Tips From the Ninja

14 09 2010

Dear Ninja,
I have a 7 on 7 touch football team and we do not have a defense in place.  Our offense is not that strong and I think that having a stronger defense might help win games. What would be the best defense to IMPLEMENT?  I have thought of putting the CB’s in man coverage and the rest of the team in zone. This is my first season as manager and I am USUALLY an offensive guy and no one to help with defense.  Thanks!
                                                                                                                                                             Sincerely,
                                                                                                                                                             Anthony

“The best offense is a good defense.”

   – Very Original Saying Invented by the Ninja in his Wisdom

Anthony,

Your issue is a common problem in flag football.  The limited extra attention devoted to the team strategy is spent on offense, trick plays or updating stats.  But developing a consistent defensive scheme and flexible formations is key to taking your team to the next level.

A blend of man and zone defense can work great if you have the right personnel.  If the offense is showing a three receiver set, and if you have the athletes to man up on all three receivers, it gives you a lot of options to cover the dump off, run or scramble.  In that type of formation, lock down your corners and a safety an man coverage and use two rushers and two linebackers.  To give your team an edge, work on a blitz and rush scheme that mixes up the linemen and linebackers, occasionally sending three.  Be aware of leaking linemen (assuming they’re eligible) and a scrambling QB. 

7man Flag Football Defensive Scheme

Shadow Cover 3 Defense

Also consider what the Ninja calls “Shadow Cover 3” – A less aggressive true zone option with corners starting in the flats and drifting back into deep third coverage with a middle safety and two backers and two rushers. 

This is just a start to what you can do in a 7man league on defense.  If you haven’t already, visit my Dojo and pickup a 7man playbook. These all come with the Defensive Handbook and the Ultimate Strategy Guide which will propel you and your team to the next level.

“No mistakes. No mercy.”

                                -Ninja

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Playing to Win: Regular Season Battles in the Shadow of Playoffs

13 09 2010

QUESTION:

Hi. I play in a league with only 8 games per season (less with rainouts).  Our team has not played that much together, but we don’t want to take a lot of chances during regular season because losses might hurt our playoff seed. Should we take risks during the season or play defensively? Thanks     – Johnny

“Fear of the open road weakens both hand and head.”

                                                                                                           – Trileon’s  Adages for his Heirs

Johnny:

Playing “defensive football” all season is a surefire way to ensure mediocrity.  Particularly if you are a new team, you will have a very difficult time accessing the players’ true potential and tapping the pockets of talent in your team without taking risks and making mid-season changes as needed.  

 The two most important things to remember about playoffs are:

  1. If your team makes it to the playoffs, you’ll have to beat the best team to win the championship.
  2. If you don’t make it to the playoffs, you’ve already spent too much time thinking about it.  It’s time to re-tool and look to next season.  Your system doesn’t work.

The first question to ask is how likely is it that your team doesn’t make the playoffs.  Some leagues let all but the bottom one or two teams in the playoffs, but others only allow four teams.  Know your league rules before the season starts, but once you’ve got a general idea of where you need to be to qualify, ignore the playoffs for the first half of the season.  Sitting at the computer refreshing the standings screen multiple times a day is a mistake, and drilling into your teammates’ heads how crucial it is to win X games before you step onto the field is likely to have destructive consequences.  Play to win and play to improve, but don’t obsess over the win/loss count and where you stand in the rankings.  Your team will benefit much more by having worked out the kinks (through wins or losses) than it will from having so carefully tried to manage wins and losses (which may not work anyway) that half of the players could be adding more.   

That said, there may come a point with one or two regular season games left, where a win or a loss determines whether you advance to the playoffs. Play that game like it’s the championship game – nothing else matters that day except a W. 

 And as for the first issue, yes you may not have to play in the first round, and yes you might skip over having to play a strong second seed, but in the end, your team will win or not win the championship by virtue of being the best team out there.  Does it help to be the first seed? Of course,  but if you’re so focused on playoff berths that you’re afraid to experiment with a spread set of receivers or to try the guy who keeps reminding you he played QB in high school or to run man coverage with an extra blitzer, you missed out.

– NINJA

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